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The Pittsburgh District provides expertise to help the region and the nation meet water resources development, environmental and other engineering needs.
The US Army Corps of Engineers' involvement in works “of a civil nature” dates back almost to the origins of the United States. Over the years, as the Nation’s needs have changed, so have the Army’s Civil Works missions. Those missions today fall into four broad areas.
- Water infrastructure
- Environmental management and restoration
- Response to natural and man-made disasters
- Engineering and technical services
Missions in each of these areas support the Army, Department of Defense and other federal, state and local agencies.
Civil Works projects are located throughout the United States to address a wide variety of national needs. The primary funds for the Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works program come from the annual Energy and Water Resources Development Appropriation (WRDA), not the Defense budget. A typical annual Civil Works program budget is about $5 billion and includes WRDA funds and cost-sharing funds supplied directly by non-federal sponsors for specific projects plus reimbursable work performed for other federal agencies.
The process for developing Civil Works projects begins when citizens see a need for flood protection, navigation or other water-related infrastructure and ask Congress for help. Congress directs the Corps of Engineers to do an engineering or feasibility study to determine the project’s validity. Corps studies typically include two phases: an initial reconnaissance to determine if a feasible solution is likely, then a feasibility study to examine alternatives and select the alternative that best meets national and local needs.
Most feasibility studies require local sponsor cost-sharing. If the study determines that a project is warranted, Congress may authorize the project and appropriate funds. Most projects are built with a combination of federal funds and contributions by non-federal sponsors. Generally, the local non-federal sponsor operates and maintains the completed project.
Delivering integrated regional solutions that minimize risk and enhance reliability for the Nation’s infrastructure, water resources and environment.
Maintaining a team of multi-functional professionals poised to face the challenges of the future.
When a storm hits, multi-purpose flood control reservoirs built and maintained by the Corps of Engineers retain excess water upstream of the dam. Controlled releases of this excess water prevent or reduce downstream flooding. Without Corps reservoirs, the Flood of January 1996 would have raised the crest at the Point in Pittsburgh by 9.7 feet, and during the September 2004 flooding from Hurricane Ivan, the crest at the Point of 31.1 feet would have been 7.7 feet higher.
Pittsburgh District reservoirs also proved their effectiveness during the June 1972 flooding when without Corps reservoirs the crest at the Point would have been 47.9 feet, 1.9 feet higher than the devastating St. Patrick’s Day Flood of 1936.
As the Headwaters District, Pittsburgh has played a key role in the evolvement of the Corps of Engineers’ flood damage reduction mission. Part of that role is directly related to the region’s history of major floods. Local and state efforts to find solutions to local and regional flooding prompted Congressional debate on a national flood control role. Devastation from the 1936 St. Patrick’s Day Flood finally provided the impetus to pass the Omnibus Flood Control Act of 1936 assigning that mission to the Corps of Engineers.
Since then, the Pittsburgh District has constructed a system of 16 flood control reservoirs and 42 local protection projects that have returned more than $20 in flood damages prevented for every $1 invested. Regional sources estimate that the District’s flood control reservoirs prevented more than $11 billion of damages and 42 of its local flood protection projects prevented more than $2.4 billion of damages since their construction.
These projects are also a prime example of federal and local cooperation. Local sponsors share in the costs of planning, designing, and implementing flood damage reduction projects. The District also conducts an active public involvement program to elicit comments and questions on the problem being studied and alternative solutions being considered.
Water quality management is an integral part of Corps civil works missions. Pittsburgh District, as stewards of federal lands and the environment, complies with the mandates of the Clean Water Act and other laws and regulations to enhance the physical, biological and chemical integrity of our nation’s waters. We conduct field surveys and operate a real-time monitoring network to assess existing water quality conditions at our reservoirs and navigation locks and dams, track trends, operate reservoirs for optimum downstream benefits and identify and implement aquatic ecosystem restoration initiatives.
In an on-going program, we document the aquatic macroinvertebrate diversity of District reservoir inflows and outflows. The discovery of two new species in District waters was recently confirmed. Our study clearly demonstrates that reservoir tailwaters are capable of supporting extremely diverse invertebrate populations.
Ecosystem restoration returns areas, or environments, to a close approximation of their conditions prior to disturbance, or to less degraded, more natural conditions that will sustain healthy and diverse biotic communities. Ecosystem restoration projects, as with other project purposes, are best initiated with strong public interest and support. Program authorities extended to the Corps focus on aquatic ecosystem restoration. Project proposals can be formulated and evaluated for recommendation and approval by Congress as either specifically authorized projects, or under the Continuing Authorities Program (Section 206 for aquatic ecosystem restoration and Section 1135 for small ecosystem restoration at completed Corps projects).
Restoration of ecosystems within the Pittsburgh District often requires the neutralization of acidity and removal of metals in drainage which flows from abandoned coal mines and seepage from coal refuse piles. Thousands of miles of Appalachian streams have been destroyed or degraded by mine drainage. The interdisciplinary talents of the Corps of Engineers can contribute to development of state-of-the-art treatment systems that will enable these streams to once again support a diverse population of aquatic life.
Ecosystem restoration can be directed at different sized ecosystems – complex ones encompassing multiple states, more localized watersheds, or a single stream aquatic habitat.
The Corps of Engineers provides emergency assistance under Public Law 84-99 to save lives and protect improved property (i.e., public facilities and services, residential or commercial developments) during flooding or coastal storms. The Corps also reconstructs levees damaged in flood events. Assistance to individual homeowners and businesses is not permitted. Corps operations are federally funded, but the Corps has no authority to reimburse states or local communities for their efforts. The Corps provides support to other agencies, particularly the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), under Public Law 93-288.
Type of Assistance Provided by the Corps:
Assistance in search and rescue operations.
Emergency construction of, or repairs to, levees or other flood protection projects.
Hiring of contractors and equipment for flood fighting, construction of levees, etc.
Providing flood fighting materials (i.e. sandbags, sandbag machines, plastic sheeting, pumps, etc.)
Technical advice and assistance on flood fighting.
Removal of stream obstructions or bridge opening blockages.
Criteria for Corps of Engineers Assistance:
Flooding must be occurring. Urban or residential areas only.
A declaration of a state of emergency or a written request from the governor of the state or from a local official is required. The request must detail state and local commitments and identify the specific needs and types of assistance requested.
Emergency Operations assistance is meant to be temporary in nature and will be in support of state and local ongoing or planned efforts. Non-federal interests must commit all available resources (i.e., manpower, supplies, equipment, funds, etc.)
The request must be technically feasible and economically justified.
The state must agree to furnish all assurances of local cooperation and indemnification of the United States.
Local interests must sign a cooperative agreement, unless only Technical Assistance and/or Rescue Operations are provided, and to remove all temporary works.
Environmental stewardship has become an integral part of the Corps’ work ethic and its roots extend back into history. The Corps of Engineers was the first federal agency to exercise environmental management over the areas that became Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks. While this tradition may have been overshadowed by the national pro-development push of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, today’s Corps takes a strong approach to protect the environment.
The District’s responsibilities in this area are to maintain technical and professional expertise to assist the nation in fulfilling the objectives of the National Environmental Policy Act and other laws protecting environmental, cultural, historic, and wildlife resources. District efforts include water quality monitoring at all Corps projects; participation with other agencies in fish sampling on the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers; cultural, historical, biological and archeological surveys at proposed construction sites and existing projects; wildlife and natural resource management plans at the reservoirs; and a variety of public education programs.
It is possible you have noticed the Corps of Engineers logo while boating on one of the Pittsburgh District’s three rivers, or during a picnic at a nearby lake. The Pittsburgh District not only builds, but operates and maintains the infrastructure of locks and dams and multi-purpose reservoirs that provide local flood protection, navigation corridors, recreation and water quality improvement to our region.
Section 14 of the Flood Control Act of 1946 enables the Corps of Engineers to restore and protect eroded stream banks and shorelines that threaten the structural integrity of public works or non-profit public facilities. Examples of these works include highways, municipal water supply systems, treatment plants, sewer and water lines, hospitals, schools, fire companies, churches and libraries.
The Corps can also play a role in helping local communities to construct new, improve existing, or expand water-related environmental infrastructure. Section 313 of the Water Resources Development Act of 1992 authorizes the Corps of Engineers to provide support to communities for projects like waste water treatment and related facilities; water supply; storage, treatment, and distribution facilities; and surface water resource projection and development in 21 counties of South Central Pennsylvania.
Section 219 of the Water Resources Development Act of 1992, as amended, authorizes the Corps to provide environmental infrastructure assistance to other areas of southwestern Pennsylvania. Funding under this program has been received each year since 2002 for work in Allegheny County.
Section 594 of the Water Resources Development Act of 1999 authorizes an Environmental Infrastructure and Resource Protection and Development Program for the State of Ohio. Funding has been received under this program to prepare a program management plan, to develop model project cooperation agreements and to initiate a number of projects.
In additional to its reservoirs, the Pittsburgh District has constructed 42 local flood protection projects. These projects are designed to provide protection for heavily developed residential, business and industrial areas with a history of flood problems.
Such projects typically consist of stream bank protection, dredging, flood walls, drop structures, debris basins and levees. Once construction is completed, these projects are generally turned over to a local sponsor for operation and maintenance. The District and the local sponsor periodically inspect the project to insure it is still capable of providing the protection for which it was designed.
Three local protection projects within the Pittsburgh District hold a unique status in that the Corps retains responsibility for their operation and maintenance. These unique projects are located in Johnstown, Pennsylvania; Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania; and Elkins, West Virginia.
Flood damages within the Pittsburgh District are controlled by both structural and non-structural methods. Non-structural flood warning systems with the Cheat and Tygart River basins in West Virginia are innovative early-warning systems designed to save lives and protect property by providing advance warning of flood crests. Ice jam related flooding is being controlled at Oil City, Pennsylvania with uniquely designed ice control structures on Oil Creek and the Allegheny River.
You will find abundant recreation opportunities at our 16 lakes and in the pools of our 23 navigation locks and dams on the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers. There are approximately 104,000 acres of public lands adjacent to our dam and reservoir facilities in western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and northern West Virginia provide for recreation on and around the water. Boating, canoeing, jet skiing, wind surfing, swimming, fishing, hiking, picnicking, camping and hunting, and other outdoor opportunities are available.
Our recreation and land management programs reflect a dual mission which emphasizes developing recreational opportunities by federal, state and local government and private enterprise. At the same time, the Corps is committed to protecting natural and cultural resources for future generations.
The Corps of Engineers has been involved in regulating certain activities in the nation’s waters since 1899. Initially, the primary thrust of the Corps’ regulatory program was the protection of navigation. Passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, greatly broadened this role. Today, work in navigable waters or depositing dredge or fill materials in waters of the United States, including wetlands, requires a permit from the Corps of Engineers.
Water is one of our nation’s most valuable resources. It is becoming increasingly important that we protect our inland waters and wetlands for the use and benefit of future generations. In making decisions on whether to grant, deny or set conditions on permits, the Pittsburgh District considers the full range of environmental and socio-economic factors.
The permit process varies depending on the project’s complexity, location and effect on the environment. Anyone who is planning work in lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands, ponds, etc., within the Pittsburgh District’s regulatory boundaries should contact our Regulatory Branch to determine federal jurisdiction, ask questions or submit a permit application
The District’s Support for Others program provides technical and management services to federal, state and local agencies who do not have the in-house capability to meet their needs for specified activities, or who are interested in combining their resources with the Corps – creating a partnership to support various needs/projects.
Current/Previous Support for Others work provided to: Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Housing & Urban Development, Military, National Energy Technology Laboratory, National Park Service, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Office of Surface Mining, Panama Canal Commission and the Tennessee Valley Authority.
If you are interested in putting the Corps of Engineers to work for your agency, please contact our Program Manager at (412) 395-7276.